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Foster Parents Empowered by New Indiana Law

A new Indiana law, which has recently gone into effect, will give foster parents more influence in family law proceedings involving children that they are currently fostering or previously fostered.

When it comes to family law in Indiana, and across the United States, courts utilize the controlling principle of determining what is in “best interests of the child.” This framework is purposefully vague and open to give judges as much flexibility as possible in their determinations; given how unique each case is from child to child. When a child is placed in custody of Indiana’s Department of Child Services and goes through a child-in-need-of-services (CHINS) proceeding – the best interests of the child is going to be the controlling standard by which a decision is reached.

Until recently, biological parents and, in their absence, next of kin were given priority when it comes to such a determination, which is often reached solely through testimony of those intervening on the child’s behalf. This priority has often come at the expense of foster parents who were the primary caretakers of the child before and throughout their CHINS proceedings, and who have come to know the child that they have been caring for.

Senate Enrolled Act 1, which went into effect on July 1, 2019, gives foster parents the ability to legally intervene on behalf of the child in a CHINS proceeding or in a proceeding to terminate a parent-child relationship. Previously, foster parents had to request to intervene on behalf of the child in a CHINS proceeding, and judges were permitted to reject these requests if they felt it wasn’t in the best interests of the child. This would leave foster parents without any means of advocating on behalf of the child. This has now changed.

The new law comes on the heels of a series of recommendations from the Child Welfare and Policy Group which was employed by Governor Eric Holcomb’s office to review Indiana’s Department of Child Services and provide recommendations to improve the agency. These recommendations recognized Indiana’s marginalization of the foster parent’s role in determining a child’s best interests and the law now codifies their right to have a role in that determination.

If you are a foster parent who has been fighting to have your voice heard in a proceeding that will determine the future of your child, or perhaps you are seeking full custody, call Keffer Hirschauer LLP at (317) 857-0160. Let our experienced family law attorneys fight of you and your family. Contact Keffer Hirschauer LLP for a free consultation today.

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